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Transatlantic trip December 2023 - Pre-cruise days in Italy

Day -2 (two days before boarding) – Viterbo


Fuimicino Airport was a breeze - facial recognition, self-scanning passports, the only delay was waiting on the delivery of luggage. Mine rolled off after about half the flight had been delivered, and I was off to the train. I needed to change at Roma Trastevere, as I was heading back to Viterbo Porta Romana. Taking an earlier train than I’d planned for the first leg, I had about an hour on the platform in Rome before the northbound train arrived.

Once in Viterbo, my hotel, the Mini Palace, was outside the walls, a long block down a slight hill from the impressive gate. My room was ready, so I headed up and had a half hour power nap. I’d asked the receptionist to find a taxi driver for me who would be available for about 2 hours to take me on a circuit around this historic city. At half past, a white Renault Mégane rounded the corner and I hopped in outside the hotel. When I showed Luca my proposed itinerary, he shifted the order - the benefits of being a local. So off to the south first, to the ex-Cathedral (1564-1936) Chiesa di San Martino al Monte Cimino in San Martino al Cimino.

Chiesa di San Martino al Monte Cimino, Former cathedral
Chiesa di San Martino al Monte Cimino

Set near the top of a rise overlooking the city, the former abbey church is a brilliant stone building with an impressive vault and side aisles, all in clean white stone. The apse is empty behind a stone altar rail, save for wooden seats lining the side walls and a possible cathedra at the back. In front, the altar table is formidable carved stone, with grating at its center, possible housing a coffin.

After getting a shot from the front steps of the stone-paved plaza and the countryside extending to the west, Luca took me to Montefiascone and the Basilica Concattedrale di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia. While the forecourt is in a tight space in the old city center, the large dome was a significant feature visible between twin campanile from the steps of the building across a garden.

Front facade, Basilica Concattedrale di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, Montefiascone
Basilica Concattedrale di Santa Margherita d’Antiochia, Montefiascone

I was very surprised when I entered, as the nave was entirely within the octagonal dome. Brilliantly ornamented with carvings and statues, I walked around the walls, getting pictures of the gilt framed murals at the multiple side altars. Plenty of light streamed through the clear glass in the clerestory windows. I’d left the taxi and walked the narrow city streets, and knew I needed to get back, but I really think this cathedral deserved much more study. Nearby is the Santuario di Santa Lucia Filippini, which seemed to be down a steep descent of stairs - I wasn’t about to visit this trip, but put it on a list for the future.

From this city to the north of my lodgings, we headed on a diagonal through striking countryside to Tuscania, due east of Viterbo. First to the Romanesque Basilica Concattedrale di San Giacomo which was locked.

Front facade, Basilica Concattedrale di San Giacomo, Tuscania
Basilica Concattedrale di San Giacomo, Tuscania

I got a few shots as I walked around the building glowing in the late afternoon sunlight, but soon we headed across town to the historic Basilica di San Pietro, a former cathedral of Tuscanella (300-1150, co-cathedral 1150-1573.)

Towers and front facade, Basilica di San Pietro, a former cathedral of Tuscanella, Tuscania
Basilica di San Pietro, a former cathedral of Tuscanella, Tuscania

Rising tall over the valley below the hill it sits on, it is a narrow stone building with a strong spiritual presence in the interior space. The presbytery is raised, with the crypt below. Remains of tile flooring have been revealed, with sarcophagi lining the side aisles. The entry façade faces east, so my outside shots of the basilica and two towers were backlight with the setting sun.

It was nearing 5pm and the sun would soon be below the horizon. We hustled back to Viterbo and its cathedral and papal palace. When I’d reviewed my photos taken in July, the best framed shots had a spot of red discoloration, and I wanted to see if I could correct that. With this old cathedral’s main facade to the east, the setting sun backlit the building and tower. I did, however, get the shot I wanted, without that blemish.

Front facade and campanile, Duomo di Viterbo / Cattedrale di San Lorenzo
Duomo di Viterbo / Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

I’d sent Luca off once we’d arrived, and the cathedral itself was closing. I wandered about the old town, looking for the ATM and bank I’d used during my earlier visit (as I would be boarding the Epic for a Mediterranean cruise.) Finding it, I slowly headed back towards the Porta Romana gate and the hotel, sticking my head into eating establishments. Dinner wouldn’t be served until 7. I was very tired, hungry and there were no dining options near the hotel. The solution of calling for a pizza and having a glass of red wine in the hotel lobby proved possible - in fact, the receptionist also got herself a diavolo pizza. I was able to do emails while waiting and eating, and got to bed by 7, sleeping soundly.


Day -1 (day before boarding) Tarquinia

The forecasted rain had occurred overnight, with the streets and trees wet out my window. Breakfast was included, with my OJ and coffee, I had a banana, and tried to make the sweet croissant work as a sandwich of sliced cheese and salami. The powdered sugar hid the apricot jelly, so my hands were a true mess. My notes reflect that I’d done a slight inventory of my baggage, finding that I neglected to bring a European plug converter, a bag for dirty laundry; my flashlight batteries had died.

The bus I planned to take to Tarquinia left at 13:07 from near the train station. That left me the full morning to explore Viterbo. On my earlier visit, I knew I wanted to see the Basilica of St Francis, which I assumed (incorrectly) was the large domed church visible from the balcony of the Papal Palace. Maps and street signs guided me to the older, dark church on a hill, further away from the cathedral than expected. Among its relics are a small one of the patron saint, and pieces of the cranium of St Elizabeth of Hungary (mounted in a plaster skull!)

Departing the Basilica di San Francesco, I took a different route, heading towards the valley which ran between the hills of the city. I came to the Chiesa della Santa Trinita, the domed church I’d seen. The neighboring convent has a lovely stone cloister, with large bright murals high on the walls. The Romanesque nave and presbytery have intriguing stone tile work on the floor and walls, with elaborate gilding around the altarpieces.

View of Viterbo Cathedral, Papal Palace, bell tower from Chiesa della Santa Trinita
View of Viterbo Cathedral, Papal Palace, bell tower from Chiesa della Santa Trinita

Once I returned through the Porta Romana, I headed down to the train station to get a bus ticket and better instructions for the location of the bus stop. Acquiring the ticket, I walked back towards the large stone gate and determined where the bus would stop, near the newspaper stand. I returned to the hotel, retrieved my luggage from storage, and returned to the stop. Several other buses appeared, which were boarded by the young scholars heading home for lunch. My bus was about 15 minutes late, but after wending its way over verdant hill and vale, skirted Vetrella along its ancient walls and passed through Monte Romano. It dropped me across from my hotel on time.

Once my gear was stashed in the room at the end of the hall, I headed up the hill to the old city. A staircase offered a shortcut to walking the lengthy switchback road, and after the second rotary, I was passing through the gates of Tarquinia. Taking a left turn a block up from the guardian pillars, I headed down a narrow one-way cobbled street to come to the plaza below the co-cathedral, which was locked. I navigated my way around the building, hoping to find an alternate open door into the nave, without success. Continuing on to a church just outside the walls with a brilliant view of the surrounding valley, I came to the ex-cathedral (1208-1435) Chiesa di Santa Maria in Castello. Also locked, the information displays made no mention of a former cathedral status (while and the city’s tourism site do). Now a parish church, it is opened only for weekend services, and by appointment.

Front facade, Chiesa di Santa Maria in Castello, ex-cathedral (1208-1435) , Tarquinia
Chiesa di Santa Maria in Castello, ex-cathedral, Tarquinia

Zero for two, I decided to spend the rest of the daylight wandering up the hill in town. A slow meander, I eventually came to the main street, following it to the balustrade at the top of the rise. Great views, I’d noted that veritably nothing was open at 4pm. To the west was another gateway, and just inside it was the church and convent of St Francis, which was open. Then on a parallel street, I descended paralleling the old walls, looking for the diocesan office, hoping to make an appointment for either of the then closed churches. I didn’t find it, but came to yet another gateway.

Piazza and front facade, Concattedrale di Santi Margherita e Martino, Tarquinia
Concattedrale di Santi Margherita e Martino, Tarquinia

At half past four, church bells rang out, coming from the direction of the Concattedrale di Santi Margherita e Martino. I crossed town, arriving at the Duomo Piazza. The cathedral door to the far left was open, however, crowded with what looked to be students and parents. Making my way, they parted to allow me entry. A vast white space greeted me, with black-and-white marble diamond tiles on the floor, blocky thick columns with curved arches defining the aisles and nave, trompe l’oeil in white and beige in the nave vault. Then a contrast - from the transept to over the sanctuary, a series of dark murals cover the ceiling and walls down to the dark wood wainscotting. Off in a side space, chanting began as the group at the door had moved into a closed off room.

Leaving the cathedral, the sun had finished setting, and dusk rolled over the foothills and agricultural valleys spread before me. I stopped at the tourist office, learning that the bus to the port would stop near the hotel, but I needed to return inside the gateway to get a ticket from the tobacco shop.

I began to carefully walk back down the hill, facing traffic as the sidewalk would suddenly disappear for several meters. I spotted the entry to the shortcut stairway, and soon walked into the hotel reception. Making a reservation for dinner at Horta, their restaurant, I received a red ale to take to the room and borrowed a USB charger. I then headed upstairs where I freshened up, did some packing reorganization, and pushed through several handfuls of email.

Alici Ripiene di Philadelphia e Olive Taggiasche (stuffed anchovies with Philadelphia and Taggiasco olives with caper mayonnaise and chilli pepper) to start, deep fried and hot to the touch, a bit too fishy for my taste. A glass of Regius Giangirolami (viognier, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay.) Burger di “Frisona da Latte” con Crema e Chips di Zucca Mantovesa, Cipolla Rossa Caramellata, Toma e Chips di Pancetta (“Friscona di Latte” burger with Mantovana pumpkin cream and chips, caramelized red onion, toma and bacon chips) accompanied by a glass of Pancarpo Giangirolami (cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite verdot.) Insalata mista for ruffage. For a vegetabe side, Zucca al Forno rosmarino e peperoncino con salsa di castagne (baked pumpkin rosemary and chilli pepper with chestnut sauce. The wines were passable, with my preference being the white. The burger was excellent - thick, medium rare, very flavorful. I really enjoyed the veggie side. The salad had unripe tomatoes which I discarded.

Dessert was a restaurant special: Hortamisu - mascarpone mousse, cocoa biscuit and crumble, chocolate doc, coffee ice cream and gel. With it, a glass of grappa: Bertu Oltre il vallo - se lezione della miglion vinaccre tipiche invecchiata 24 mesi in barrique e 6 mesi in bottle di whisky (43% alcohol by volume.) The dessert was decadent and awesome. I very much enjoyed the grappa (much better than many others I have tried), but I knocked my glass over, with half going onto the table. As it was 10pm, no refill and off to bed.

Cruise Day 0 (Friday, 1 December)

Breakfast at the Tarquinia hotel was scrambled eggs, bacon, coffee and juice. I checked out feeling a bit wired from too much caffeine, rolling the bags across the street to the bus stop. The bus to Civitavecchia picked me up on time (I had to again stack the 2 bags in a seat near the front and sit cramped with them.) As we rode into the port town, we passed the cruise depot, I stayed aboard until getting off in front of the cathedral. Maps led me through town to a TIM outlet where I was able to activate my Italian number for a few weeks - needed for my driver guides to reach me. Passing a small market, I was able to get AAA batteries for the flashlight, but there was no chocolate that intrigued. I continued to backtrack, arriving at the depot and joining the short queue for the bus. Once we had filled about a half bus the driver took off and took us into the marina where we began the check-in ritual of moving from queue to queue as passports and paperwork were checked, security screening rejecting my internal biological hardware, and passkeys were issued. [During this process my US phone rang - it was my driver for Naples: I had consistently placed our port day there on the first rather than the second After clearing that up, we agreed to meet at the port the following day.] Then up a few ramps and onto the ship.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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